There are a lot of things that make jissen a fun and challenging game, but the biggest thing that makes jissen difficult is that we must make our movements respond to those of our opponents. I’ve covered how to practice the individual unsoku and unshin movements elsewhere - these drills are designed to teach you to move around someone else.
There are four main factors in using unsoku and unshin that we can train: timing, distance, strategy, and technique deployment. In most of the following drills, we will work these factors by building the ability to use unsoku and unshin as a response to various stimuli (of which an opponent could be one example).
First, I want to mention that, though these drills may look very basic and beginnerish, they can also be extremely powerful practices for advanced students. I don't want to get ahead of myself, but especially the slow free-moving drills will reveal layers of subtle control potential in even slight turns of the feet - that is, for advanced students.
Whatever your current skill level, you will get as much out of these fundamental unsoku drills as you allow for yourself. I don't have to tell the top students to take every movement as an opportunity to improve their skills, but the not-bad-but-not-yet-great students should really pay attention at this level, as these fundamental competencies are often the weakest links in their skill sets.
Partnered Preset Unsoku
This is the most basic of basic partnered unsoku drills. In the most common version, both partners face in opposite sides of kamae and move across the court using a boxy ko-soku and ten-soku combination. The goal is to build speed and sidestep distance while matching your partner's timing and position. Of course, other unsoku patterns can be used as well: try So and In, Ka and Gen, and Hensoku.
Free Unsoku Within Area
In this drill, both partners are free to move as they like, with two stipulations. They cannot touch, and they cannot leaved a bounded area. The are can be made in various shapes, and more partners can be added. The goal is to move quickly without violating either of the two rules.
You can also create variations in which partners attempt to force each other out of bounds by their unsoku.
Free Unshin Within Area
Many students never get comfortable using unshin in jissen, and I believe this is because we usually practice unshin in straight lines with plenty of space for "safety." After a while, it's important to teach students to perform unshin movements near obstacles and people so they can gain the awareness of their surroundings as they move. Spatial awareness in four dimensions is a vital skill in mastering jissen, so I came up with this "confined unshin" drill. There are tons of possible variations, but here's the most basic practice we often employed at Georgia Tech:
Mark off an area and get everyone to stand inside. For whatever period of time, everyone has to move continuously using whatever unshin they like. They must not stop moving, touch other players, or leave the marked area. You can specify which unshin students are to use or allow them the freedom to adapt as they wish. Ironically, the first option often becomes the more-difficult.
Slow Free Unsoku/Unshin in Full Court
in this drill, the idea is to get used to using unsoku and unshin together while facing a partner. Speed, complexity, etc. can be built gradually.
Slow Tag Jissen
In this variation, both partners are free to move as they like and attempt to tag their opponent. It's usually best to specify a particular target area (shoulder, foot, back), but either hand may be used. Of course, this drill should begin slowly and build in speed as the players gain confidence. The game can also be played in a confined area, and I've even had students form teams with various player "positions."
Free Unsoku/Unshin - Attack on Signal
In this drill, one partner delivers signals to which the other must respond appropriately. The signals can be anything: words, handclaps, whistles, gestures, etc. The responding partner moves freely in unsoku while the signaling partner delivers cues. At the cue, the first partner must deploy some predetermined attacking movement.
Eventually, several signals may denote several attack responses. There are plenty of options for building up the complexity of this drill. Use commands like jump, duck, and roll, or call technique names.
Avoidance on Signal
This drill has the same set-up as the previous one, but this time, the responding partner has to defend rather than attacking.
To begin, the responding partner has to distinguish between only two cues, one for inside fukuteki, and one for outside fukuteki. After a while, other types of fukuteki can be added, as can jumps, unsoku patterns, or even attack techniques. Complexity and speed build gradually.
Slow Avoidance of Prop
At Tech, we call this game "don't get hit by the guy with the stick", and it's always a lot of fun for at least one partner. Bryan and I learned this game from John Okochi, back when it was still OK to hit students with a shinai. Now, it's apparently abusive and dangerous, but our students don't seem to mind. If you think swinging shinai at each other is too "hardcore" for you, by all means, use something else. The American honbu has padded sticks, and in Japan, we often swing our belts. It doesn't matter what the prop is, so long as you build the game properly.
We begin this game with the "stickman" kneeling. This precludes much reaching and seems to make defenders a little more comfortable starting out. Defenders make kamae and practice responding to three signals on each side. The signals and responses (from left chudan) are: jump over low swing, fukuteki away from left-top swing, fukuteki away from right-low swing.
After building basic competency, we start to mix up the "attacks" and gradually increase speed. Then we start moving around a bit...
Free Unsoku with Avoidance of Prop
This is the moving version of the stick game. Stickman chases the defender around the court, deploying low swings, high-to-low swings, and low-to-high swings at will. The defender's job is to use unsoku to move and "don't get hit by the guy with the stick" using jumps and/or fukuteki. Speed, frequency, and variety are your intensity multipliers here, and they have to be carefully controlled to ensure gradual escalation.
When students get good at this game, we add two more "signals": a straight thrust and an overhead down-smash. The correct response to either was best summed up by Mr. Miyagi, when he said "Best defense for punch - no be there."
Free Unsoku with Avoidance of Prop and Counter
In this version, the defender is encouraged to counter any attack with a punch.
Two Sides to the Story
You may have noticed that many of the above drills are one-sided, e.g. they tend to train only one partner at a time. Of course, any of them can be adapted to be symmetrical drills in which both partners are active. In the signal drills, for example, one partner attacks on a whistle, and the other partner attacks on a handclap.
I didn’t include too many specific examples, nor did I write out every possible variation; these are just a few broad frameworks for creating your own drills depending on the needs of your own training. These can also be combined with the other drill templates presented elsewhere on Taido/Blog.
Any of these drills could be considered preparatory for kobo or jissen practice, either as a teaching step or a warmup. The allow students to learn to make decisions quickly and move accordingly using various types of stimulus and movement. Importantly, they are all sans-technique, which makes them less stressful than jissen.
Having the preknowledge that their partners will not just punch or kick them, students are free to play and explore and learn at a comfortable pace. Once students have gained this basic confidence and competence, they can get more out of their kobo and jissen practice.